The British Furniture Confederation (BFC) is the UK furniture industry’s representative body which seeks to engage with Government and ensure that its policies and initiatives support a thriving furniture, furnishings and bed sector.

The Manifesto has been sent to ministers across Government, as well as shadow ministers and key members of the All Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group, with clear, implementable calls for action to bolster the furniture, furnishings and bed industry – including: clarity on Brexit negotiations; enhanced long term export support; increased support for training to resolve the growing skills gap; the maintenance and policing of safety standards and regulations; and engagement with, and support for, moving towards a more circular economy.

“It has been encouraging to see the Government’s renewed focus on industry and we welcomed the publication of the Industrial Strategy in November, which can only have a positive impact,” says BFC chairman Jonathan Hindle.

“However it did not fully address our concerns about the skills gap, export support or indeed support in general for what is seen as a more traditional manufacturing sector. Hence the publication of this, our second Manifesto, and a very clear message to Government about the value of our industry and the ways in which Government can specifically help it to continue to prosper and contribute to the economy and culture of the UK.” 

As before, the BFC 2018 Manifesto has been developed in response to an industry-wide survey*, completed by 65 companies across the sector. The results highlighted a number of strengths, opportunities and challenges and the Manifesto sets out to identify the BFC’s specific action plan for 2018/9.

Jonathan Hindle adds: “We must keep on reminding the Government of the importance of the furniture & furnishings industry to the economy. At nearly £17 billion and rising, it’s a substantial growth industry for the UK, supporting over 327,000 jobs across 50,000 registered companies. Manufacture of furniture and beds in Britain is one of the top three divisions driving manufacturing growth in the UK, with output of over £11 billion emanating from 8390 companies employing 118,000 individuals.**”

Uncertainty surrounding the future of trading with Europe remains high on the list of concerns for industry – not just for exports to our main markets but also for imports of essential materials. Costs have already risen – with 94% of survey respondents reporting increases well above inflation rates – and 85% anticipating further rises in the next 12 months. The BFC’s voice therefore joins many others calling for ‘as tariff-free trading as possible, and clarity as soon as possible’. British business must remain a primary focus for Government in its negotiations and all options for supporting businesses should be considered.

The industry has seen exports increase slightly in the past couple of years – up 13% to £1.13b from 2015-2016 – but only 20% of survey respondents are currently exporting more than 10% of turnover or plan to increase exports over the coming year or so.

To encourage more exporting and to new markets, the BFC still wants Government to commit to a clear five year strategy, detailing the value of support available to exporters in each year. It also wants to see more knowledge and more in-market support. 

The BFC also urges measures such as tax breaks for export investment, more trade missions, export finance guarantees, simplified grant systems, and increased funding and more sector-devolved power for Trade Challenge Partners (TCPs).

The BFC’s survey indicates that the furniture industry approves of, and is committed to, maintaining the current high levels of product safety and standards. But a significant 35% feel that the UK does not effectively enforce product safety regulations so the BFC is urging Government to increase resources across the regulatory landscape to improve policing. 

Says Jonathan Hindle: “The safety of our products is of paramount importance, both as a basic duty of care to our customers and to the reputation of our industry.”

The BFC is also calling for clarity on product safety and the mutual recognition regime the industry will have to work to post-Brexit to ensure frictionless trade with the EU.

With no further progress made on the review of the flammability regulations, the BFC is now pushing for urgent action and continuing to engage and collaborate fully with Government. Getting the balance right between maintaining high levels of safety and reducing the use of certain fire-retardant chemicals is critical and collaborative action with all stakeholders is essential.

With almost 80% of survey respondents concerned about their ability to recruit adequately skilled staff over the next few years, the government’s approach to education and apprenticeships remains crucial to the success of the sector.  

Not only Brexit and subsequent immigration policy is of concern – but also the perhaps unintended consequence of education policies which are turning schools away from teaching skills essential to furniture making – namely design and technology. These subjects should be accredited as core and properly represented in all accountability measures, says the BFC.

Jonathan Hindle says: “Without highly skilled employees, the UK’s reputation for high quality innovative goods – the very products that present the best export opportunities – will decline.”

The BFC also urges Government to continue to support apprenticeships and to ensure the Apprenticeship Levy works for an industry dominated by SMEs (less than one in six are levy payers). Encouraging schools to partner more with local businesses would also help,

The BFC survey also confirms the furniture and furnishing industry’s commitment to becoming more environmentally friendly. 62% are committed to reducing carbon emissions, 95% are aware of the environmental and health impacts of the chemicals used in products and most have taken steps to reduce them. 

The industry also supports the Government’s aim for a greener, more sustainable economy, with 87% of respondents in favour of positive engagement in the development of product stewardship schemes. The BFC wants to ensure full collaboration with the industry of the development of any such schemes in support of moving towards a more circular economy.

While there continues to be significant voluntary engagement in efforts to reduce packaging waste, CO2 emissions, recycling and diversion from landfill, there are concerns that, without proper scrutiny, the number of rogue traders could escalate and the BFC is looking to Government for support in policing the use of second-hand and re-used components to ensure the consumer is not the victim of misdescribed and/or unsafe products.

In addition, the Government must support the industry – particularly micro and SME businesses – to increase research and development of more environmentally-friendly materials and manufacturing methods.

* BFC membership survey conducted in March/April 2018, via Survey Monkey. A total of sixty five companies answered 45 questions. The majority of responding businesses identified as either micro or small to medium, with 12% as medium sized. 60% employ less than 50 people; 80% less than 100.

**Statistics taken from FIRA’s Statistical Digest December 2017, a compilation of published statistics and market information which has been sourced primarily from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), HM Customs and Revenue, the Bank of England and the Communities and Local Government web sites. Published in January 2018, the digest incorporates the latest available verified statistical information.